War Diaries – 21st Bn. CEF

21st Bn, CEF-Sunday, September 15, 1918

September 15th was fine. In aerial combats one enemy machine was driven down and seen to crash in the rear of our lines. The G.O.O, 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade called at Battalion Headquarters in the afternoon. During his visit he informed Major Bowerbank that the relief of the 2nd Canadian Division by the 1st Canadian Division had been cancelled. Routine orders of this day contained the following item of importance, Temp-Major H.R. Pense, D.S.O.,M.C. to be Temp-Lieut-Colonel, 9th August 1918 and to command 21st Canadian Infantry Battalion. Authority for Lieutenent H.G. Deane, M.C. to wear the insignia of a captain, pending the confirmation of his promotion to this rank was received from Divisional Headquarters.  Lieutenant G.W. Trollope was slightly wounded in the attack carried out by his unit on August 26th, reported from hospital on this day. Lieutenant W.H. Wightman reported for duty from hospital and Lieutenant N.B.Smythe, M.C., was admitted to hospital, sick. Lieutenant J.R. Smith, M.C., V.H.Ulman and A.J. Scott reported for duty on this date. Lieutenant V.R. Ullman, who was transferred to this unit from the 3th Canadian Battalion on July 22nd 1916 was wounded at the Somme on September 15th,1916, and evacuated to England. In January 1917 he returned to France and rejoined the Battalion as a platoon commander. While serving in this capacity, at Vimy, in April 1917 he was gassed and transferred to England for treatment. Where he had recovered from the ill effects of the gas he was attached to the Russian Embassy, London, England for duty. While serving at this office he was awarded the Russian Order of St. Stanislov. Early this year he gave up his position with the Russian Embassy to rejoin the battalion, but, upon arrival in France, was retained at the 2nd Divisional Wing, C.C.R.C for duty as an instructor, until August 7th, 1918, on which date he rejoined the unit. In the attack carried out by the battalion near Guemappe on August 26th this officer received slight wounds, which resulted in his being confined to hospital until 16 September, on which date he reported for duty and was appoint to command “A” company.

September 15th, the third anniversary of the battalions arrival in France, was very fine. Reminiscence were in order and many recalled the departure from England and the arrival in France of the battalion. After battalion had spent four months training in England, word to proceed to France was received on September 12th, 1915. The news was joyfully received and great excitement prevailed in camp during the next few days. Kits were overhauled and inspected, surplus baggage being packed in kit bags and stored. The Oliver equipment was turning in and the battalion was issued with new Webb equipment much as is used by the British Armies the world over. Each man was issued with 120 rounds of ball ammunition, field dressing, gas helmet and all final preparations for the trenches made. The transport, Machine Gun section and some of the signalers left Sandlin for the front in charge of Major C.G. Bennet on September 12th 1915. The party went via Southampton and Havre. Two days after – on September 14th – the remained of the battalion left for Frame under Lieut-Colonel Willam St. Pierre Hughe the 21st Battalion fell in for the last time on the West Handling parade ground just at dusk and moved by a circuitous route to Folkestone. Rain fell heavily, and by the time they reached the piers at Folkestone, officers and men were soaking wet, and were glad to crowd in the warm cabins. Those who had conjured up visions of cheering thousands lining the route and starting on the final stage of their journey to the trenches to music of brass bands were doomed to disappointment. Strict march discipline was observed, talking and smoking being prohibited, and the most secluded route taken. On the transport each man was furnished with a life belt, which he was ordered to strap on, and about midnight the churning of the screws told the battalion that it was at last bound for France. The sea was very rough, and many who had escaped sea sickness all the way across the broad Atlantic, succumbed to the malady in the short choppy waves of the English Channel. Over half the distance had been covered when a signal message was flashed form one the destroyers acting as escort ordering the transport to put back to Golkeston. The cause, it was said, was that a mind had gone adrift in the channel and until it had been secured, navigation was unsafe. Some of the men who had got to sleep, were much surprised on being awakened to learn that though they had been sailing so long, they were still in Folkestone. The sea sick men were very glum at the prospects of having to endure the agencies of Mal-De-Mer all over again, but, next morning the sea had abated considerably, and the voyage across was very pleasant. The battalion arrived in Boulogne about nine o’clock, and it was with a distant thrill that they first set foot on French soil. IT was remarked that the 21st Battalion had been first to cross the channel in daylight. Little time was lost in disembarking and forming up on the docks. The 21st, headed by the pipe ban, which in honour of the occasion, accomplished “Lak Marsiliese” and bugle band playing French airs, marched through the streets of Boulogne, following the route over which, so many months before had passed the contemptable little army which had saved France from the Huns and so upset the plans of Kaiser Bill. Cheered on their way by French soldiers and civilians they marched to a rest camp just outside the city, where all were glad to throw off their heavy packs and enjoy a well-earned rest. French people in hundreds visited the camp, and the inevitable small boy who, be the French, English or Canadian, must always be on hand when anything out of the ordinary is going on, quickly made friends with the men from Canada. Time after Time a camp was cleared by Military Police and Piquet, but the youngsters only reappeared in larger numbers. The battalion rested during the afternoon and at 8 o’clock that nightfall in and marched to the station where they entrained for St. Couer. The ride will not be forgotten by members of the old 21st Battalion. Cattle trucks had been fitted up for the transportation of troops and in there the men piled, forty to a car. St. Omer was reached about 2.00a.m. And here the battalion was joined by the Transport and Details under Major Bennet, who had come from Havre. The commended the long march to the trenches, undoubtly the hardest ever attempted by the battalion. It was surely a test of physical fitness for those men. Many of them wore Canadian boots, and they were unsuitable for the hard cobbled roads of France. Their packs were full and each man carried his full complement of kit and ammunition. Only those who have carried a sixty pound pack, rifle, equipment, ammunition, water bottle, haversack, smoke helmet, and the various other parts of a soldier’s equipment along the cobblestone roads of France under a broiling September sun, can understand what this march meant. Halts were made ten minutes to every hour, and they threw themselves down by the road side eager for the few minutes’ respite. Packs sat heavily on the backs, and like the “Little old man of the Sea” seemed to grow heavier at each mile. Feet were blistered and sore, and perspiration almost blinded them, their spirits never flagged. They were on their way to the trenches. After months of training, they were at last nearing the goal of their ambition so they were happy, and though it sometimes cost an effort they joked and sang as they covered the weary miles. At night they halted in the fields and barns along the route, and it is safe to say they needed no lullaby to send them to sleep. That the months of hard training in Canada and England had not been in vain was shown on this march, the first of the many which the 21st Battalion was to make in France and Belgium. Their splendid physical condition told, and though the end of each day, found them tired, it also brought them nearer the front line, and all were anxious to get into the big game. Departing from St. Omer the battalion marched all night, making its first halt at Rhinescure, arriving at 7.00a.m. The cookers, the gift of patriotic friends of the 21st Battalion, accompanied the unit and were never more appreciated than when breakfast was served from them in a large field on the way. A rest of several hours was given here and at 11.00a.m. the battalion fell in and continued on to Recke, which point was reached at 6.00pm. Here the night was spent and ont he following day the battalion was inspected by Major-General Alderson, General Officer Commanding Canadians in France, General Alderson addressed a few remarks to the battalion in which he complimented them on their fine appearance, spoke of high standard which had been maintained by the Canadians and expressed his confidence in both officers and men of the battalion. A rumour had spread that the 21st battalion would not go to the trenches for a week or two, but was discredited by General Alderson, who informed the battalion they would go into the firing line immediately. This news was received with cheers and the sole topic of conversation in billets that night. On September 18th, Lieut-Colonel Hughes, accompanied by Major E.W. Jones, Major T.F. Hewitt, Major S.W. Gray, Captain F.Scott, Captain A.M. Stroud, Lieutenant F.D. Raymond and LIeutenant H.W. Cooper as well as Battalion Sergeant-Major Gilbert and a number of N.C.O’s left billets at 6.00a.m. and proceeded to the trenches which that battalion was to take over. The Battalion under command of Major G.G. Bennett started early in the morning on the last lap of the journey to the trenches. A halt was made near Ballieul shortly after mid-day where dinner was served, and after a rest proceeded to Drancutre where they were under canvas. This day was particularly hot and all suffered from the intense heat. Some were forced to fall out but caught up again as quietly as possible and when on the following day, Sunday September 19th, a muster parade was held, the battalion was reported present and complete. After three years’ service in France the personnel which accompanied the battalion from England on September 15th, 1915 still serving in France is as follows:- Lieut-Colonol H.H.Pense, D.S.O.,M.C. Officer Comanding, 21st Canadian Infantry Battalion, Major G.S.S.Bowerbank, M.C., Second-in-Command, 21st Canadian Infantry Battalion, Major H.W. Cooper, attached 3rd Army School of Instruction, Major J.H.Sills, D.S.O., 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade, Major A.P.Miller, D.S.O.,M.C., Canadian Forestry Corps and Captain F.D.Raymond, M.C., Adjutant, 21st Candian Infantry Battalion. Also 182 other ranks carried on strength of the 21st Canadian Battalion.

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